A Client at the Capitol

For four years-from 1988 to 1992-Deborah Sims, an Alexandria, Va.-based nail technician, kept First Lady Barbara Bush’s nails looking beautiful.

I guess you could call her the “first manicurist.” For four years-from 1988 to 1992-Deborah Sims, an Alexandria, Va.-based nail technician, kept First Lady Barbara Bush’s nails looking beautiful. She got the job the usual way - Mrs. Bush had admired the nails of two of her staff members and discovered they were both clients of Sims. At the time she was tending to her nails herself. “She was a no muss no fuss kind of person who didn’t want to be pampered, but she was sold when she saw her colleagues with such perfect nails,” says Sims. So sometime between Christmas and New Year’s, just prior to George Bush’s inauguration, Sims traveled to the then vice-president’s residence and gave Mrs. Bush a set of tips.

After the inauguration, Sims continued to visit Mrs. Bush at the White House every two to three weeks. The first stop on her trip was security. “Sometimes the guards would say, ‘It’s the nail lady’ and wave me right through. Other times, when security was tightened, they’d open the trunk and have dogs search my car,” says Sims. An escort would then walk her up to the residence, which housed a mini-salon in the second floor living quarters complete with a shampoo bowl, vanity, mirrors, and rolling manicure table and cart. “The First Lady would have to go out to a salon if she was getting a chemical service to her hair but otherwise she got her hair and nails done in the room.” Sims explains. Mrs. Bush’s personal desk and computer were also found there, as were Millie and the puppies.

Once Mrs. Bush’s natural nails grew out, Sims removed the tips and applied an overlay to keep her nails strong. “She liked a conservative oval shape that felt was too pointed. She valued my professional opinion so we agreed on a compromise. She wanted to be stylish, yet retain her personal flair,” says Sims. She wore Jessica #29, a subtle pink that Mrs. Reagan also wore. (The polish has since been renamed First Lady Pink.) Mrs. Bush paid the going rate - $25 for the service plus $15 for travel - by check out of her own personal account. “But I would have done them for nothing since she was such pleasure to serve,” says Sims. “It was worth whatever inconveniences there were to have the opportunity to work in the White House.”

“I worked around her schedule. After each appointment, her chief of staff would call me and arrange a new date, though sometimes some last minute shifting around would be necessary,” says Sims.  “The First Lady was more considerate of my time than most of my clients. She kept me waiting only one time and apologized profusely for it.”

Mrs. Bush always made good use of her time, sometimes conducting staff meetings or watching CNN during the service. But there was always time to chat. “She knew all about my personal life (to the degree that I remained professional) and never failed to ask about my family.” says Sims. “Sometimes she’d file me in on upcoming events and visitors to the White House. She even gave me a sneak peek at Millie’s book.” Sometimes she would close her eyes and snooze, reveals Sims.

During her tenure as manicurist, Sims was fortunate to meet the president several times. Even more of a thrill was the time that her son made his acquaintance. “A few times it happened that my son was sick and I didn’t have child care so I brought him along with me. Once time, he was playing with the puppies on the South Lawn when the president walked up to him and asked who he was. They shook hands and the president looked over at me. I’ll never forget it,” Sims recalls.

“You can’t find a photo of Mrs. Bush without perfectly manicured hands. The media joked about her pearls but no one ever commented on her beautiful nails,” says the woman responsible for those nails. “She was a delight, a real class act. Our last day together, we both cried and I hugged her. Those four years were definitely the highlight of my professional career.”

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